Monday, November 28, 2011

(Guest Post) The Dangers of Crying Wolf in the Green Movement

Guest Contributor Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

One of the major obstacles that the environmental movement faces is presenting global ecological problems to the public without making change seem impossible or the situation seem hopeless. This is a big challenge since usually once environmental problems are identified there is a lot of work to be done that no one wants to tackle. Luckily, there are ways the green movement can manage the presentation of these issues that makes the threats real without taking away all hope for the future.

A major issue within environmental reporting is the exaggeration of the results from studies. This not due to scientific error or propaganda on the scientists' part, but from distortion or misinformation from the media. This often is simply a technique reporters use to increase readership. After all, more people are likely to read an alarmist article than a mediocre report, even if the effects of such reporting are detrimental in the long run. In order to prevent reports from containing false information, scientific environmental studies need to be interpreted by the researchers (i.e. those who have PhDs in the field) who understand the data as well as possible biases and mistakes. With the exaggeration of negative environmental reporting, the public discredits scientists and begins the mistrust the whole scientific process.

Not only does exaggeration spread false information about the state of the planet, but it also often causes the public to think there is no hope in saving the environment. In this scenario, people revert to their old destructive behaviors thinking that no matter what they do nothing will change. With doomsday prophesying and Chicken Little scare tactics, environmentalists seeking to influence the public to change their ways will get no where. Instead a different approach must be used. The media needs to report realistically, but point out that disaster can be prevented or overcome if people make the effort to turn things around now.

Another way to lighten the gloom of environmental reporting is to put it in terms that the public understands. Instead of using technical and scientific jargon, frame environmental issues in a way that connects them to the average person's life and lifestyle. In coastal eastern North Carolina, for example, conserving wetlands received a lot of attention and support (from seemingly opposing parties) when the wetlands were identified as the nursery grounds for local seafood.

When it comes to heralding the public to take proactive measures to save the environment, the most important thing to remember is that drastic changes are unlikely. The mantra for the early green movement in the '60s and '70s was to "use much less," which the public interpreted as "don't shower, don't eat, don't drive a car" and very few people joined up as a result. Those who did were often stigmatized as "dirty hippies," a name that sticks to this day. A modern synthesis of psychology and environmentalism today recognizes that in order to affect positive changes, the new mantra needs to be "use less with more efficiency", or put simply - sustainability. This idea is rewarding in the sense that those who subscribe to it use natural resources in a smart way. Efficiency means less waste, and a better future for our planet.

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